It’s fair to say that both expats and Emiratis love eating out, with an estimated 7,000 – 8,000 restaurants open for business in Dubai alone. However, the country has become associated with a more sedentary lifestyle; long office hours spent at a desk and time spent indoors, combined with the hot climate also creating barriers to exercise, have led to increasing levels of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
So will Dubai ruin your diet? We look at what healthy food you can opt for and how healthy eating is still possible in Dubai when you’re surrounded by temptation.
Is it possible to have a healthy diet in Dubai?
No one who lives in the UAE needs to be told that poor diet and a lack of exercise are major concerns here.
According to the Global Burden of Disease Study 2013, more than 66% of men and 60% of women in the UAE are now overweight or obese. A UAE University study reportedly estimated the same figures applied to around 40% of children.
94% of Emiratis and expats say they like to try new cuisines and restaurants.
What are the local eating habits in Dubai?
Thanks to its vast expat population, Dubai boasts an array of dishes from around the globe including:
- Lebanes & Levantine
Many Emiratis and expats eat out at least once a week, according to the KPMG 2017 UAE Food & Beverage Report, with brunch a hugely popular pastime on Fridays (the first day of the weekend). Something of a Dubai tradition, it is enjoyed by residents and tourists alike.
Quick service and casual dining restaurants are both popular and economical ways to eat out. Burgers and shawarma wraps are hugely popular and fine dining is generally viewed as an occasional treat.
Due to the extensive number of international dishes available at any time of day, takeaways and restaurant visits are a real temptation.
*Survey respondents in the KPMG 2017 UAE Food & Beverage Report
Factors that can affect healthy eating in Dubai
The average amount of overtime worked in Dubai is five hours according to UBS Prices and Earnings 2015. This means that many people are working the maximum 48-hours a week allowed – or even longer – making a lack of time and convenience primary reasons for eating out or ordering in.
Due to the higher costs associated with importing certain items, grocery shopping can be expensive – leading many single residents and couples to grab fast food options or visit low-cost eateries.
Scorching summer temperatures can easily reach 50oC, causing residents to spend more time indoors – combined with reduced levels of exercise increases the likelihood of snacking.
A new 5% VAT charge now applies to many products, and could increase day-to-day costs. All food will be subject to this levy, which is part of a move by the Gulf Cooperation Council to strengthen the region’s economic position in the wake of a period of lower oil prices.
Is eating out bad for your health?
Restaurant or fast food meals are typically high in salt, sugar, carbs or fat, and healthy food options can be limited.
However, a growing trend towards healthy food in Dubai means that more eateries are now catering for guests looking to discover new ingredients and fresh takes on traditional cuisines.
Dubai’s governing authority is taking steps to promote greater transparency with a dedicated Food Watch app and digital platform. This enables residents to track their food from ‘farm to fork’ and check the nutritional information of around 20,000 eateries, as well as school cafeterias – making healthy eating much easier.
Diners can now check the nutritional claims of restaurant meals, using a new Healthy Food logo.
What are the best ways to maintain healthy eating in Dubai?
There are some steps you can take to have a healthy diet in Dubai.
- The World Health Organisation suggests limiting your daily intake of fat to no more than 30% of your daily food intake
- Substitute saturated fats (such as ghee or coconut oil) with non-saturated oils (such as olive or sunflower varieties)
- Aim for a balance in your daily intake by eating the right proportions of a variety of foods
- Explore healthier options – for example, Emirati cuisine is influenced by Arabic, Iranian and Lebanese cuisine that includes plenty of grilled meats, one-pot stews, pulses and salads
- Avoid fried foods and creamy sauces, and view desserts such as Luqaimat (sweet fried dough balls) and Knafeh (sweetened cheese) as very occasional treats
Healthy eating in Dubai
While the vast array of cuisine in Dubai can challenge everyone’s good intentions, the city is taking steps to reverse the trend towards obesity.
There is a growing awareness that the more sedentary lifestyle associated with residing in the city has negative health effects. A love of dining out and takeaways, the hot climate, and typically long working hours may remain a constant, but the Dubai menu is now laden with nutritionally focused cuisine that matches its residents’ good intentions towards healthy eating.
This is underpinned by moves from the government to encourage a much more open approach to food – with an increasing number of restaurants enabling people to make more informed decisions about what they eat.
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